In which ways does the relationship between husband and wife alter as a result of the influence of possession of the monkey’s paw?
The relation between husband and wife could be termed a gift. They are not only comfortable with each other, but actually enjoy each other’s company. More than merely spouses, they also appear to be each other’s best friend, as exemplified by the playful interaction that takes place between them. Once it appears as though the consequences of the husband’s wish upon the monkey’s paw causes the accidental death of their son, everything changes between them. The playful sense of emotional bonding over their son now absent, they withdraw into a stony coolness toward each other that masks a simmering antagonism of the wife toward her husband; this will soon boil over into a frightful rage. The promise extended by the monkey’s paw has cost them a price greater than just the loss of their son: it has cost them their happy marriage as well.
With the themes of “The Monkey’s Paw” in mind, do you think there is any possible combination of words that Mr. White could have used to make his wish not result in an ironically tragic impact on somebody they cared about? Why or why not?
It is important to note that there is nothing anywhere in the text to indicate that any member of the White family has done anything deserving of such wicked retribution as what happens to them as a consequence of making the wish on the paw. This is an essential component of the thematic foundation of the story. Clearly, the monkey’s paw is invested with some strange supernatural power to punish, but the punishment is remarkably fair and democratic: anyone who makes any wish for any reason will be dealt with rather severely solely on the basis of having had the temerity to think they could place dice with fate. Which means the consequences of trying to make a deal with this hairy little devil is not high stakes game of chance where statistical probabilities gamed to manipulate the odds for success. The severity of the terms of that justice may change according to the wording of the wish, but the point is clear: there is no escaping justice if you choose to mess with the monkey.
The author allows the characters to confront the question of whether the consequences of wishing upon the monkey’s paw might be mere coincidence; can this theory of natural coincidence be applied to the experience that the Whites have with the monkey’s paw?
Could Herbert have been killed in a factory machine purely by accident in a way that was no fault of Maw & Meggins? Well, sure: workplace deaths occur by accident all the time. Would Maw & Meggins have been willing to pay out compensation even though they insist they were not responsible in any way? Even if you fervently believe that no business ever lets go of a dime unless they have to, there is always the fallback reality that many companies are willing to pay out money just to such unpleasantness quiet. Doubt toward merely coincidence being at play here likely comes down to one single issue: whether or not you believe that 200 pounds is an appropriate compensation figure for something a company insists was not their fault. As for the macabre knocking at the door resulting from the second wish and the instant cessation of knocking upon Mr. White’s unidentified third wish…well, keep in mind that the third wish is not revealed. Thus the exact nature of reality is masked, as Jacobs invites readers to color vague details with their own fear.
The theme of “The Monkey’s Paw” essentially boils down to one of the more macabre variations of the universal caution against wishing for things because the worst thing might happen is your wish coming true. The universality of the element of the story has made it one of the most popular works in literature for parody and loose adaptations. Can you think of any movies or TV shows that focus on more specific aspects of the story? How do they relate to this source text? How can each text illuminate the other?
One of the most famous parodies of “The Monkey Paw” was an early segment on the yearly Halloween special of The Simpsons. Homer also purchases a monkey’s paw from a shady foreign fakir who warns against the consequences of using it. The warning proves to contain the same sort of grotesque irony as exhibited in the original story. A much less faithful adaptation of the plot that also becomes a more expansive examination of the theory that negative consequences can be avoided by carefully wording the manner in which the wish is made was presented on a seventh season episode of The X-Files. Although only tangentially an adaptation at best, the ending of the episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in which Buffy and Dawn bury their mother stands as one of the most haunting considerations of the emotional impact of the Mrs. White eagerly opening the door at the sound of the knocking only to find nobody there.